WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — David Falco Jr. remained on the mound far after he allowed the winning run to score.
A fly ball to right field sent a George Mason baserunner darting for the plate. It was just deep enough that a Matt Woods throw home was late.
The reliever’s head hung, hair dangling on the sides and arms rested on his hips as if he couldn’t fathom the way his team’s season ended in a flash. Even as the Terps exited the dugout and began to gather in the outfield for a final postgame speech from coach Rob Vaughn, Falco remained still.
“I know Dave was sad because the season is ending and obviously it’s his senior year,” Matt Shaw said. “He laid his heart on the line for us.”
Maryland’s 11-10 defeat to fourth-seeded Patriots capped off a one win and two loss showing in the Winston-Salem Regional. After breezing by Northeastern in the opening game, the Terps were outscored 32-16 in losses to Wake Forest and George Mason that eliminated them from the NCAA tournament.
Vaughn knows being armed with pitching depth is a must in the postseason. Moves were made before the season to address that weakness that plagued last year’s squad — transfer Kenny Lippman proved to be a critical addition and Kyle McCoy dazzled in spurts as a freshman. But again, Maryland failed to advance out of a regional in large part due to shortcomings on the mound.
“In the next week or so, we’ll be able to look back and address some things that we need to address to … take the next step,” Vaughn said. “That’s gonna be a big thing for us.”
Pitcher Ryan Van Buren started but lasted just two-thirds of an inning and allowed three runs on Sunday. Andrew Johnson entered and threw a pair of scoreless innings before stumbling in the fourth. He gave way to Nigel Belgrave, who’s full count offering was belted to center field for a three-run home run.
The Terps entered the fourth inning up five. By the time it ended, they were down two.
A Woods home run tied it at 10 in the sixth inning and Falco replaced Lippman in the eighth with the game still even. Falco pitched a clean eighth before hitting the leadoff batter in the final frame, who stole second, reached third on an errant Luke Shliger throw and scored on a sacrifice fly. Ten Maryland runs were ultimately not enough.
A handful of options Vaughn relied on for the last three months were unavailable as Maryland needed to win twice Sunday, once against George Mason 12 hours after Saturday’s late-night loss ended, then again against Wake Forest, which just steamrolled the Terps in a 15-run defeat.
They won’t get that chance to face the Demon Deacons. Instead, the Patriots — the lowest ranked team in RPI to make the postseason — won a battle of teams with depleted pitching staffs.
“I think there was a situation where … maybe they could look past us,” George Mason coach Shawn Camp said. “We went out and threw up three runs in the first inning and I think coach Vaughn knew at that time he had to make a change.”
Shaw’s at bat in the top of the ninth inning was Maryland’s best chance at pushing ahead late. The Big Ten Player of the Year had the bases loaded with the score knotted at 10 apiece, a chance to almost ensure his team would play at least one more game. The shortstop grounded out to end the inning. And in the bottom half, Falco faltered for the first time in the postseason.
“You’re not satisfied finishing your season here,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been a part of groups that get to play in the next weekend. That’s what it’s really all about.”
The loss likely marks the end of an era of Maryland baseball led by stars like Shaw, Shliger and Nick Lorusso. This weekend was also likely Jason Savacool and Nick Dean’s final starts as Terps.
The group pushed Maryland to new heights in three seasons. Three consecutive regional appearances put a new spotlight on the program. But ultimately, failing to advance to a super regional with them leading the way will muddy Vaughn’s thoughts in the coming months.
“We weren’t able to knock the door down the last three years,” the coach said. “I’ll always wonder what I could’ve done differently to help get us through. The reality is, we’ll go our separate ways next week. This exact group of guys may never be in the same place at the same time again.”